CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Graduate assistant Brian Kajiyama, right, has been working with kicker Dan Kelly, left, and long snapper Jake Ingram, not pictured, this spring.
Kajiyama helping special teams
The amazing story of Brian Kajiyama continues to unfold.
In a few years, Kajiyama has gone from Hawaii football fan to volunteer assistant to graduate assistant. He's done it all from a wheelchair on which he depends because he was born with cerebral palsy, and despite having to communicate verbally via a computer.
Now, Kajiyama, 31, has taken the next logical step.
He is coaching players.
He's been working with snapper Jake Ingram and kicker Dan Kelly during spring practice. Kajiyama's duties include providing them with daily practice plans and charting their proficiency.
Both players are seniors and headed into their fourth year as starters. They said they never had as much coaching before.
"Coach Mouse (Davis), he'd be with us, but he never really devoted the entire time to us like Brian. We never had an actual piece of paper charting what we've done. It helps us improve," Kelly said. "He gives us the daily workout and we go by it. Jake's velocity and accuracy is improving. And my accuracy is better, too. Today I only missed three (of 32 field goals) from 45 yards. On the first day I missed nine."
Fans can judge the improvement themselves at the Warrior Bowl spring game Saturday at Aloha Stadium. Ingram and Kelly will snap and kick for both teams.
Ingram said Kajiyama -- who loves football but has never been able to play the game -- has done his homework about the technical aspects of kicking and snapping.
"He knows what a good get-off time is, what a good snap time is. He's legit," Ingram said. "His recording of the times and locations of the snaps really reassures me that they're there. Sometimes when the punter gets the ball, they don't even remember. So with Brian watching I can just look at the paper after and know what I need to work on."
Both players have NFL potential, and Kajiyama said he wants to help them get there.
"Jake has been doing great. His snaps have been averaging .66 seconds for punts and the NFL average is .67, so he's right there," Kajiyama said. "Kickers are a unique breed, so it's interesting to listen to Kelly talk throughout his workout. He's having a great spring. I still have lots to learn, but it's been neat, and Dan's been teaching me as he's been kicking about what is good form or not."
They practice apart from the rest of the team on the soccer field adjacent to the football field, amid scattered footballs. The three enjoy each other's company.
"He always has wisecracks, so you have to watch yourself," Kelly said of Kajiyama. "He listens more than he talks and he'll call you on it if you say something stupid. He can't let it go. He'll give you a look."
Like many others, Ingram said he is inspired by what Kajiyama does just to get to practice by 7 a.m.
"He wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to be with us," Ingram said. "He's unbelievable. Anybody who has anything to complain about, like they're too tired or whatever, turn around and look at him."
Kajiyama said he has read about Doug Blevins, a man with cerebral palsy who coached kickers for the Miami Dolphins for six years.
UH coach Greg McMackin said he's very pleased with Kajiyama's work, which also includes running the team's computer center.
"He's a gold mine in my estimation," McMackin said. "He's an inspiration to everybody and he's been there every morning and late at night. He's dedicated and really making the transition to being a coach."
Kajiyama began appearing at UH football practices as an undergraduate student several years ago. In 2006, UH assistant coach Jeff Reinebold suggested to defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville and head coach June Jones that they put Kajiyama's extensive computer abilities and passion for the game to use. Kajiyama became a volunteer assistant, preparing tape of opposing teams for Warrior players and coaches as a scouting tool. He earned a game ball for helping UH start a nine-game winning streak.
Jones promoted him to graduate assistant last spring, and Kajiyama was nominated for the Football Writers Association of America's annual Courage Award.
It's not just a feel-good story, McMackin said. It's a helping-the-team-improve story.
"This is him helping me prepare these players and doing a great job at it," the coach said.